Horsehair & Textbooks: 48 Hours

I do a lot of things. I’m a rider, a trainer, a writer, a student, a girfriend, a daughter, and a cat mom to a very rambunctious 6-month-old kitten. I go to school full time at the University of South Carolina, and I manage my own barn as well as clean all the stalls, feed all the horses, and teach all the lessons. And in the midst of all of this, there’s one question I get asked almost exclusively: How do you do it all?

Well, I could write a blog about what a typical day in the lifestyle of horsehair and textbooks is like…but that would be really boring. You’d probably get about halfway through and click on to the next cat video on Facebook. So instead, I’ve come up with an idea.

I’m going to walk my viewers through a 48-hour span in my life using Instagram’s new story feature. Beginning Thursday October 27th at around 7:30am, I’ll be using Instagram Story to share what it’s like to wear all of my hats in a fun, quick, modern way. So if you’d like to follow along and see just how I do manage it all, from school to the barn to my apartment and everywhere in between, follow me on Instagram at @maddykbrown and watch my story! My Instagram is private, so be sure to send me a follow request to get your backstage pass to the Horsehair & Textbooks lifestyle.

@maddykbrown
@maddykbrown
@maddykbrown

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What To Wear, What To Wear?

One of the most confusing things about getting ready for your first horse show is figuring out what to wear. As a rider or a parent of a rider, stepping into a tack store without guidance of what to purchase is like walking into a mirror maze. So many colors, brands, fits, styles, price ranges, and options makes it almost entirely impossible to pick out an appropriate outfit on your own. As a trainer, being told that your student has appropriate show attire and then watching them walk up to the ring in clothes that don’t suit the situation is extremely frustrating. You don’t want to be mean and you don’t want to make them feel bad, but in the very subjective sport of hunters and equitation, you absolutely must dress the part. As bad as it sounds, what you’re wearing can dictate your placing at the end of your class.

But have no fear! I am here to help. In this blog, I’ll help point you in the right direction and help you dress to impress! Of course, the best way to know what is appropriate according to your trainer is to ask for their assistance. Communication is key! However, here is a run down on the best way to dress for hunters, equitation, and even jumpers, along with some suggestions on brands.

Hunters

Show hunters are based on tradition of the hunt field, with some improvements made for practicality and style. The key is to dress traditionally. No bling, bright colors, or other distracting adornments are appropriate.

Helmet: Black helmets are most common, but some people switch it up with navy or brown. Brown helmets look really cute on kids in jods with brown boots, garters, and gloves. However, the most common and popular are black helmets. Some of the most popular brands for hunters are Samshield, Charles Owen, and OneK.

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Hope Glynn in a Samshield.

Show Coat: Show coats for hunters should be very classic. Navy blue is most popular, but hunter green is very trendy right now as well. Some jackets with adornments on the collar or cuffs have come into style, but I personally prefer a more traditional look because you know that it won’t go out of style! Hunter show coats should fit well, with the cuff hitting just at the wrist bone when arms are bent in a riding position, and the tails of the jacket should hit about halfway down the bum without getting stuck under the seat while sitting in the saddle. Show coats that are too big or too long look frumpy and not put together. Fit is very important! My favorite coats are Grand Prix and RJ Classics.

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Pony Finals model line showing navy as the most popular color.

Show Shirts: Show shirts are where we get to have some fun! I prefer that shirts be white, although very pale colors are permitted. On the inside of the collars and cuffs, patterns are very popular and are totally appropriate. Snap collars and magnetic collars are most popular right now. Stock pins are a no-no, as they’re both out of style and have been discovered to be potentially dangerous in a fall. A big style right now is to have shirts with different colors that cannot be seen when under a show coat, which is super cute as long as you know you will not be showing without a jacket! If there’s a chance that jackets will be waived, stick to traditional white. Long sleeve is necessary, and the sleeve should poke out a little bit underneath the jacket. My favorite brand is Romfh of course, and Essex, RJ Classics, Le Fash, and F.O.A.L all make cute shirts as well.

Breeches or Jodhpurs: Breeches and jods must be tan, or rust can be cute on the right horse or pony during the fall months. Tan is the go-to, though, always. Euro seat is most popular as it gives the best fit, and breeches and jods must be knee patch and not full seat. Breeches are to be worn with tall boots, and jods are to be worn with paddock boots and garter straps. If wearing jods, you must have garters, and they must be the same color as your paddock boots. Jodhpurs are cuffed at the bottom with elastic stirrups, and breeches typically have velcro or sock ankles. You may choose between front or side zip, although my preference is front zip. Fit is important here, too! Breeches and jods should not be baggy or loose, and jods should come down over the top of the paddock boot (length of breech doesn’t matter so long as the knee patch hits in the right spot). My favorite brand is Romfh, although Tailored Sportsman and Ariat are also popular.

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Maddie Schaefer shows off properly fitting jods at Pony Finals, as well as the brown helmet/boot/glove combo I mentioned.

Boots: Children in paddock boots may choose between zip or lace up, brown or black. My preference has always been brown, but black is okay too. Tall boots should be black and traditional without any extra excitement besides branding. Tall boot fit is extremely important, so I suggest getting fitted by a professional and trying on multiple brands. Boots that are too short or too loose give an unpolished appearance. My favorite brand for paddock boots are Ariat, and some great quality tall boot brands at affordable prices are Ego7 (what I have, and LOVE!), Ariat, Tredstep, and Sergio Grasso.

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Parlanti tall boots are not exactly “affordable”, but are very popular for their second skin-type fit. These boots are beautifully fitted height- and size-wise.

Gloves: Gloves must be black (or brown if you’re going to brown route in jods), and show quality. Grip is crucial. Steer clear of those knit gloves with the pimple palms…not only are they not show appropriate, but they tend to be very slippery in the hands. My personal favorite brand is Heritage, I have the Pro-Comp Show Gloves and love the fit, grip, and durability for a fantastic price. Another very popular brand is Roeckl, and they are a gorgeous show ring look with great grip but are much pricier and tend to wear quickly if you ride in them very regularly.

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Roeckl gloves.

Hairnets/Show Bows: Hair must be constrained at horse shows, no excuses. Children in paddock boots and jods under the age of 11 should have show bows at the ends of their pigtail braids. They come in endless colors, patterns, sizes, and styles. There must always be two, they must be made for horse showing (so no cheerleading bows), and they cannot block the rider’s number. Some very popular brands are Bows-4-Shows, Ponytail Bows, and Kathryn Lily. Riders in tall boots or too old for show bows put their hair up with hairnets. The hairnets must be the same color as the rider’s hair and be put in properly. No Knot or One Knot hairnets are the best, avoid the classic hairnets with the two knots that give crazy headaches. The little bow/bun thingies often used for eventing or dressage are not appropriate.

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Pony bows!

BONUS: Hunter Derbies….
Hunter derbies are special classes that feature a two round format and are considered a formal class. Any hunter class that calls for formal attire (may also be a hunter classic) calls for a special kind of show coat called a shadbelly. The shad is basically a coat with tails, and has points that are typically yellow but may come in a variety of colors. The shadbelly must be worn with at least mid-rise breeches so that no show shirt sticks out underneath the points, and you must also have a stock tie. The tails should hit at the back of your knee, and the points should hit at your natural waist (maybe a little lower). Note, a hunter shadbelly is different from a dressage shadbelly. DO NOT WEAR A DRESSAGE SHADBELLY please I beg you and everyone begs you. Below are examples of a classic shad and a little pricier one with colored tails and points. My shadbelly is an RJ Classics and I love it.

 

Equitation

Helmet: Same as hunters, although navy is not really appropriate. GPA and KASK are also popular.

Show Coat: Navy or black are appropriate. Fit is extremely crucial in the equitation to creating a tailored look.

Show Shirt: White only, no colors. Inside patterns are still okay, as are the decorative shirts that are only white when worn with a jacket.

Breeches/Jods: Tan only.

Boots, Gloves, and Bows/Nets: Same as hunters.

Jumpers
Jumpers are much more fun and forgiving, as there is no judge. However, you still always want to give off an air of class any time you’re in the show ring.

Helmet: Anything goes, although GPA, KASK, Charles Owen, and OneK are the most popular, as well as Samshield. I have a GPA Speed Air and a KASK Star Lady. My KASK is my love.

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Kaley Cuoco in classy jumper bling with her KASK Star Lady, white Equiline breeches, and blingy but tasteful show coat.

Show Coat: Colors are very popular right now, such as burgundy or jackets with colors on the collar and cuffs. Black is still considered formal attire, but any colors are okay. I have a black jacket (Horseware Competition Coat) and a navy jacket with baby blue and purple on the collar (Kathryn Lily Showtech JustWorld International Jacket). Jumper jackets are typically shorter and may have metal buttons.

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Horseware’s Competition Coat in the new (and very popular) color, Berry. Note the shorter fit, three metal buttons, and the zipper fronts.

Show Shirts: Again, anything goes, although white or the decorative shirts are still most popular.

Breeches or Jods: Neutral colors are okay at schooling shows, but tan is still the standard. White is for classics, Sundays, or formal attire situations. Breeches may have decorative embroidery.

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My Sunday whites with sponsor embroidery!

Boots: The same rules apply, although boots with decorative details or even brown boots are permitted. For custom boots with pretty details, look to De Niro, DerDau, or La Mundial.

Gloves: Gloves are still typically black, but some deviate from that. I have Romfh CoolGrip gloves in gray that I love with a gray jacket on my white horse. Roeckl makes a black glove with red accents.

Bows/Nets: Same rules still apply. Some people ride with their hair in a ponytail or braid, but I think that looks unpolished.

So here you go! A comprehensive breakdown of what to wear so you’re not standing in the tack store completely dumbfounded (for quite as long)! I have worn a vast majority of brands and competed in all three rings, so if you have any specific questions, please feel free to comment!

All In

We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.

I’ve wanted to be a lot of things over the past 21 years. The first thing I remember wanting to be was a firefighter. That lasted until I realized firefighters have to actually go into fires, and then I decided I wanted to be a pilot. Then I wanted to be a dolphin trainer. Then I wanted to be an international supermodel. That lasted for quite some time, until I settled on the idea of wanting to be a barn manager. I was always told, though, that being a barn manager is a thankless, penniless, sleepless job and that I would need to become something else to support my horsey habit. So then I wanted to be a dendrologist, and then I wanted to work for NASA, and then I wanted to be probably a million and a half other things, but still in the back of my mind I knew I would still have the dream of running a stable of my own and teaching and riding all day long.

When I was younger, I always loved to write and read. I would read at least two books at a time, one during school hours and one while I was at home. Not once did I ever lose track of where I was in each book, nor did I confuse the storylines. I devoured books in a way most of my teachers and friends had never seen, and I asked to stop at the bookstore at least once per week. When I was in second grade, I had to get my second MRI on my brain, and I was terrified of the needle they stuck me with for the dye injection. My mom’s coworker coaxed me into behaving for the needle with the promise that she would buy me two new books at Barnes & Noble afterward.

I always thought it would be really cool to be a writer or a journalist, the kind that wrote the articles in all of those horse magazines I loved so much. But there was a day when my older brother told my parents he wanted to be a journalist, and I still remember vividly them telling him journalism was an overcrowded field with too many people and not enough jobs. Pick something else. So as I went through high school trying to figure out what the heck I was supposed to be when I grew up, I kept telling myself, you can’t be a barn manager or a journalist, pick something else.

So I went to college first as a business major, but only made it through the class selection part of orientation before calling the office of admissions and changing my major to sport management. I thought I might use that degree to manage horse shows. The horse show managers around here seem to be very well off, and I love shows and have some ideas on how they could be better, so why not.

It’s the world’s most boring major, that’s why not. There’s only so many times per week that you can debate Nike versus Under Armour without losing your mind. Absolutely bored out of my mind in all of my SPTE classes, I made the choice halfway through my college career to change my major. I bit the bullet, silenced that voice in my head that kept saying not a journalist, pick something else, and I asked my advisor to change my major from SPTE to JOUR. If that wasn’t bad enough, I chose the print variety. I flushed two years worth of university education down the toilet to learn a dying profession in an overcrowded field.

And I’ve loved every second of it. Journalism is, without a doubt, where I feel most at home. I walk into the j-school and feel like I’m in my element, the classes excite me, and I never feel tempted to skip them in favor of more sleep or my favorite latte from Cool Beans. No, I won’t graduate on time. No, I’m not guaranteed a job in the journalism field when I actually do get that diploma. But I chose to take a leap of faith and follow my heart to do what I’ve always wanted to do, and I am one thousand times happier for it. Luckily, my parents have supported me every step of the way, even when they were a little unsure.

So there was one more dream that I had, that I had been warned away from. If I’m going to follow my heart, I might as well do it all the way. So in April, I opened my own barn. I am the barn manager, head trainer, bill payer, insurance carrier, morning-noon-and-night feeder, stall cleaner, appointment scheduler, and I’m going to school full time to get the degree I was told not to get. This is my form of (late) teen rebellion.

Since day one, I have been all in. If you want something this badly, you have to be willing to go out and bust your tail and get it. Take it. Make it yours. And make yourself proud. My goal at the end of this is to be able to know that if 10-year-old me saw present-day-me, she would be absolutely blown away. And I know that I’ve achieved that.

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Since making all of these choices to chase down my dreams, an unreal number of amazing things have happened.

In January 2016, I signed a sponsorship contract with Romfh Equestrian Apparel.

In March, I picked up a Chosen Rider position with American Equus, makers of incredible stirrups and spurs.
I also had my first published print article, a piece on the history of the Aiken Horse Show in The Carolinas Equestrian.

In April, I won the trip of a lifetime to Rolex Kentucky from Practical Horseman, and got to meet their crew of amazing journalists and horsemen and women.
I also began representing Absorbine/W.F. Young and their incredible products through their ambassadorship program.
I opened the barn on April 1st and steadily since then, I have built my own program with fantastic horse crazy kids who love to learn and ride.

In June, I was interviewed for a popular equestrian blog for their riders to watch feature.

In July, my farm and I won USHJA’s HQC Stable Challenge.

These are the incredible things that happen when you choose to be all in and pursue your goals with a vengeance. Sure, winning the Rolex trip was luck, but everything has been the product of years of hard work and determination finally paying off in spades.

10 Lessons I Learned at Pony Camp

As the summer draws to a close and the kids get ready to head back to school, I have to reflect on the past few months. I had three weeks of summer horse camps, two for intermediate/advanced riders and one for total beginners. All three weeks of camps were a blast, and not just for the kids. I had a great time getting to know my own students better and several other little ones who made their way into my barn, and I loved getting to share my knowledge and love of horses with all of them.

We worked on everything from how to spot the signs of colic (which came in handy when one of my students noticed a colicky pony last week) to how to construct a gymnastic. We played games, had tack cleaning races, painted ponies, went on field trips, and rode at 10:30pm one night. There were barn aisle sleepovers and trips to the best tack store ever. It really was a ton of fun and I’m so sad that it’s over. But the girls aren’t the only ones who learned a lot during pony camps. Here’s a quick list of 10 things I learned from camp!

  1. Your average hay net can fit about 3 flakes of hay, or one 10-year-old.
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  2. Kids will make taking a bridle apart seem almost as complicated to grasp as Shakespeare, trigonometry, and rocket science.
  3. The best horse activity to do in the pouring rain is ride bareback.
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  4. After the first three days, you will ban the word “bareback” in your barn because the kids will not. stop. asking.
  5. It doesn’t matter how many different horse movies you watch, someone is going to cry at the end of every one of them.
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  6. Put four little girls in a car with you, turn on Taylor Swift, and suddenly there’s ice cream on the back window and your ears feel like they’re bleeding.
  7. Painting a pony is an artform all its own.
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  8. Kids really, really, really like to race their ponies, even if the outcome is the same every time.
  9. Barn kids are like a tiny workforce with endless amounts of energy. Harness their power. Change the jump course everyday, clean every inch of the barn. The possibilities are endless.
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  10. You will never sleep as well as you will after three consecutive weeks of 15 hour days outside with 4-5 little girls constantly asking to ride bareback.

I’m lucky to have had such a fun summer with so many awesome kids! We had a great turnout and tons of fantastic feedback on our camps. Thanks to such great reviews, Garnet Hill Farm will be hosting a couple of weeks of Christmas Camps in December, so stay tuned for more information. If you’d like to stay up-to-date on our goings on and be the first to know about camps, lessons, and more, like our page on Facebook.

5 Keys to Your Trainer’s Heart

Everyone wants to be the favorite one, the star pupil in a barn full of kids, the trainer’s mini me and right-hand man, the protege, the…okay you get the point. Trainers love their little ones, even if they have funny ways of showing it, but there are ways to gain yourself some extra brownie points. I’ve been on both sides of this equation and I have officially gathered enough data to provide you with 5 Easy Steps to Win Your Trainer’s Heart.

  1. Be Punctual
    Trainers usually have extremely long days. Like, I woke up at 6am yesterday to feed and ride a couple horses, then I ran errands all day, and then I came back to the barn to feed, teach lessons, and do stalls. What time did I eat dinner last night? Around 9:30pm, right after the shower and right before passing out with my computer in my lap. We love our jobs and we love to help you and your horse, but that love is tested when you show up late and throw off the rest of our schedule for the day.

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    Julia and Penny showed up on time for their lesson clean, properly turned out, and ready to work.

  2. Provide Fuel
    Normal professional athletes run on protein shakes and healthy pre-planned meals. Your trainer most likely runs on more cups of coffee than they can count on their fingers and the occasional nutrition bar. If it were in reference to anyone else, I’d say feeding into this would make you an enabler, but nothing makes me happier than an iced coffee with my name on it. It’s also permissible to bring over a cheeseburger while your trainer is busy on the rail at a horse show, or even just a bottle of water. We get so busy we often forget to eat, so providing fuel to your famished trainer is usually a good way to earn some bonus points.
  3. Actually Be Their Right Hand
    Trainers have this weird way of being omnipresent. I don’t even remember it happening, it’s like you develop this power as soon as USEF mails you your pro card. It’s a power born of necessity, as we always have roughly 200 things on our to-do list. A quick route to becoming our right-hand man is to help us out and check off some of our tasks. Feeding horses, sweeping the barn, or setting jumps are all really great ways to help your trainer (and it makes more time in their schedule for you!). Bonus points if you do it without being asked!

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    Is cleaning tack a blast? Not really. Is it necessary? Yep.

  4. Trust Our Expertise
    Please. Please. Please. If you hire us to be your trainer, please use your listening ears when we train you. Don’t second guess what we told you to do, whether it be to use your outside aids or not to buy that horse. Allow us to utilize our years of experience and expertise to guide you. If you have questions, ask them! But please, for the love of all that is holy, do not disrespect us by having our instruction fall on deaf ears.
  5. Go the Extra Mile
    And finally, take your riding seriously and do extra. Work harder than you have to, ride more than you need to, and do your “homework”. If you come into the ring for your lesson and it’s obvious that you’re ready to lay it down, your trainer will be grateful. I’m always impressed when a kid comes in and I can tell they’re serious, they’re listening, and they’ve been working hard outside of their lessons. The more dedicated you are, the more we will want to help you!

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    Riding without stirrups when you aren’t told to will show your trainer that you’re taking extra steps to be the best you can be!

Instruction Versus Training

There are many different terms people use to describe a person who teaches riding lessons. An instructor. A coach. A trainer. They’re essentially all synonymous, different words used to refer to the same thing. Like sofa and couch. Soda and pop. We know what the person is talking about, even if that’s not what we call it. But for me, I think technically all three of these terms describe different types and styles of an occupation. Like apples, oranges, and bananas are all fruits, but they’re definitely not the same.

You have instructors. Instructors instruct. They tell you what to do, they give you the instructions on how to do the task they have instructed you to do.

You have coaches. Coaches might be a little more in-depth than instructors, as they coach you through an exercise instead of just telling you what to do.

And then you have trainers. Trainers are even more in-depth than coaches, and they do more than them, too. Think about more mainstream sports. Football coaches stay on the sidelines, coaching their players through the game and giving them explicit instruction on how to play the game, but they never leave their little area on the side of the field. In riding, a coach will do the same. They’ll stand in the middle of the ring (or at the gate at a horse show), and they’ll give their riders instruction on how to ride an exercise or a course, but that’s where they stay. Trainers are different. Trainers have this extra quality about them, and that is that they can actually train. They get in there in the thick of it with their riders, showing them what to do instead of just telling them. And when the going gets really tough? A trainer can get on the horse and either demonstrate to the rider or train the horse up to do what it needs to do.

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Showing a pony before a student to make sure she’s all tuned up for her little one.

I understand that there are different teaching styles. Believe me, I know that my teaching style is not the same as that of my friends or their friends or their friend’s friends. Everyone has a different outlook on this sport, and that’s what makes it so great. But there is one thing that really, really grinds my gears, and that is instructors.

Imagine taking a lesson, and you’re wanting to move up the levels. You’re currently doing, say, 2’6″ hunters. Your sights are set on moving up to the 3′ equitation and medals. You’re hungry for it, starving really, and you’re taking lessons with that goal in mind. You show up to your lesson, tack up your horse, and head to the ring with so much motivation and excitement to get down to work. And your lesson goes like this…

Instructor: Okay pick up a trot.
*two laps later*
Instructor: Okay change directions.
*two laps later*
Instructor: Okay walk. Now canter.
*two laps later*
Instructor: Okay change directions and canter the other way.
*two laps later*
Instructor: Okay let’s catch this outside line.
Instructor: Okay let’s do the diagonal line.
Instructor: Okay let’s do the outside line to the diagonal to the outside to the single diagonal.
Instructor: Okay walk.

You get the idea. You’re getting instruction, but you’re not getting trained. You’re not even getting coached, really. Your motivation is going to die out because you aren’t getting any feedback. I could have done that by myself, you think. And then you’re going to start thinking that maybe I should just do it by myself, there’s no point in wasting money on lessons.

And that, my friends, is how good riders never even have a chance at becoming great riders.

Now imagine the same kid, going into this lesson.

Trainer: Okay let’s pick up a loose trot and really push him forward into the bridle to get him working from behind.
*two laps later*
Trainer: Great, he looks good. Okay so now let’s come through the center and change directions, make sure you change the bend in the middle and have the new bend established as you get to the rail.
*rider doesn’t change the bend, horse gets fast at the rail*
Trainer: Okay so you didn’t establish the bend, so he got unbalanced and sped up to compensate for that. Put your inside leg on and push him onto your outside rein to create a constant inside bend. Yes, good.
Trainer: So now let’s go to a canter, and I want you to push him off of his inside shoulder before you ask so that he’s balanced enough to bring the inside hind forward and pick up the correct lead.

We’ve only gotten through the first three instructions the Instructor gave, and you’ve already learned 100% more. That’s the operative word here, learn. You don’t do lessons just for ride time, you can do that on your own. You take lessons to learn, and you don’t learn when you’re just being given instructions without any coaching or training on how to carry out those instructions or what will happen if you don’t do it properly.

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Discussing exactly how to ride a specific line during a course walk for a hunter derby finals.

A few weeks ago, I was at a horse show standing in the ring during schooling. I was training a student over a few fences to get her and her pony warmed up and schooled for the rest of the day. The entire time, there’s an instructor screaming instructions at their students. Jump this. Now jump that. Okay jump that. And the entire time the kids are galloping around without any clear idea of what they’re supposed to be doing with their body or horse’s body, jumping jumps backwards and almost running other people over, and it honestly created an extremely dangerous situation for the other riders and horses in the ring. The schooling area is stressful enough as it is, and it’s even worse for young riders who haven’t had the training at home let alone the training at the shows. This is why training is so much more than just instructing. My student has had the training at home so she knew when and how to approach the jumps I was telling her to jump, and what to do if someone cut in front of her or something came up that wasn’t ideal.

As a teacher of riding lessons, you owe it to your kids to give them the training they need to become great riders. You owe it to your horses to give them riders who know how to ride and treat them. And you honestly owe it to yourself to create riders that will make you proud to be their trainer. They aren’t just going to suddenly become the next Reed Kessler by being told to walk, trot, canter, and change directions day in and day out. If that’s all you want to do, consider becoming a horse show announcer. They do that all day long and they never have to leave the comfort of the show office. But if you want to be a trainer and you want your students to learn, you have to get in there and work hard with them and give them the tools to do great things.

Rolex16 Review: Part 2

*If you haven’t read the preview and the part 1 of the review, now is your chance to go back and catch up on this awesome trip that I won by sheer luck (and maybe a little bit of fate) from Practical Horseman magazine.*

So in Part 1, I covered Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of my exciting trip to Lexington, Kentucky for RK3DE 2016. Part 2 will cover the rest of my trip, from Saturday to Monday.

Saturday, as anyone who knows anything knows, is cross country day at Rolex. And as the eventing gods have made quite clear in the past, cross country day is also torrential downpour day. Dressed in my best rain gear, I set out for the course and to find the Practical Horseman tailgate, which was right in front of fence 14ab. In the morning, it was lovely and the rain hadn’t yet started.

And then it did. And then it didn’t stop. At the Prac tailgate, we enjoyed some delicious Panera catering, minus cookies because Panera made a major error in forgetting to deliver the single most important part of any tailgate ever. With danish in hand and hood over my head, I stood at the string and watched the best of the best navigate a combination that I thought looked impossible until I watched a few go.

Then Heather and Heidi and their friends found the tailgate, and off we went to explore in the pouring rain. From the Hollow to the Land Rover Landing to the Normandy Bank, we trekked through the deteriorating footing to get the best views at some of the trickiest jumps. One of the interesting things that stood out to me that I never knew about was the whistle-blowing when a horse was approaching. I had always wondering how people knew not to cross the galloping lanes at certain times, and there was my answer.

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Then the clock struck 12:30 and my fun was over for a little while, as I had to bolt back to the tailgate and retrieve my backpack. Why? Because this incredible trip fell right smack-dab in the middle of finals week, and this little lady is still a college student. Luckily, I only missed one exam, which the professor had decided to do online. I grabbed my backpack and my mom, and we made our way to the Practical Horseman tent in Sponsor Village so I could connect to their mobile hotspot so I could take this blasted psychology exam. A bit of a pain for sure, but I have to admit that if I had to choose a location at which to take a final exam, Rolex would be up there on the list.

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The final took about thirty-five minutes, and then I was free from the burden of schoolwork. I headed back to the cross country course in time to watch a few more go, including Allison Springer. Everyone was silent at she navigated the fences. Arthur did look a good bit behind her leg as she came off 14b, but I hoped for the best. My heart broke into a thousand pieces as I watched their runout on the screen at the Land Rover tailgate. Judging by the overwhelming “awwww” that erupted from the crowd, everyone else’s heart broke a little bit too.

As cross country ended with Michael Jung still on top, my mom and I headed back to our goober car to get ready for the rest of the day’s festivities. Saturday was also the Hunter Hayes concert at the Altech Arena, and we had skybox passes with the rest of the Practical, Kent, and Absorbine crew. I was exhausted and not too enthused, but I took a shower and dressed myself up anyway. It was strange seeing the Altech Arena bare without footing, and with a giant stage where jumps should be.

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Skybox views

The skybox was awesome, though, and it was the best place to watch the concert, which actually ended up being really really awesome. With enjoyable company and great music, it was easy to let go of just how tired I actually was. But the night did have to come to the end, and I did need to get some sleep, and so eventually we headed back to the hotel and got some shut eye.

Sunday was, of course, stadium day. How exciting! I actually learned the most on stadium day, I think, despite my belief that this would be the event that I knew the most about. What I learned was from the course design aspect. The courses are designed with the tired horse in mind, which I guess I knew in the back of my mind but never actually considered. There were a few “gimme” fences at certain points in the course to allow the horses to take a deep breath, and there were a few traps as well, such as the unrelated line and the first fence. I love hearing about what the course designers had in mind while at work.

My mom and I got to the horse park bright and early so we could finish all of our shopping. My favorite purchase of the day (and possible the weekend) was my brand new absolutely gorgeous KASK Star Lady helmet! If you’re my Facebook friend, you probably know about the sad demise of my GPA Speed Air a few months ago. Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out what helmet I wanted. I followed KASK on instagram and fell in love with the helmets instantly, but had no idea where to get one. Then all of a sudden, they appeared at Rolex right in front of my face and the first box I looked at was my dream helmet in my exact size. And it fits like a little beautiful black shiny cloud.

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I also stopped by the Kent Nutrition booth and went out to the paddocks for an interview!

I also made the awesome purchase of Arli’s brand new custom leather halter from Clever with Leather that features garnet padding and fancy stitching.

We watched stadium, mostly from the floor of the Sponsor Tent on the large flat screen tvs thanks to the overwhelming crowds that blocked every view. As I watched rider after rider, I kept holding onto the hope of Phillip Dutton and Fernhill Fugative being able to bring home the win for the USA. Then, as he had rails down and the Sponsor Tent let out a collective sigh, I became aware that Fugative’s owner was sitting on the floor next to me. Like brushing shoulders with a special kind of royalty.

I have to admit that Michael Jung was incredibly deserving and every element of Rolex was ridden beautifully by him and his gorgeous mare. When Stadium finished, my mom and I were taken to the media center to sit in on the press conference with one Prac’s writers. It wasn’t a planned part of the trip, but when I spilled the beans that I’m a journalism student, they helped me to see behind the scenes. It was so interesting, and I have to admit it was exactly like I imagined. Michael Jung is even more endearing in person than he is in the interviews you see on Facebook, and his accent adds to his charm. However, my favorite moment from the press conference came from Maya Black. When asked what was next for her after finishing third at Rolex, she laughed and said, “Well, that was only like an hour ago, so I really haven’t thought about it.” The tagline popped into my head: Rolex Top Three: They’re Just Like Us!

We said goodbye to all of the friends we had met over the course of the trip. From Prac to Absorbine to Kent and even Libby and Zoe from Ukele, it was really pretty sad to be leaving these people I had just spent four incredible days with. It was also sad to see the tents breaking down and merchandise being packed away. This magical place was being packed into boxes and I was reminded that tomorrow, I’d be back on an airplane heading back to reality.

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Loot!

Sunday night was mostly spent figuring out how I was going to get all my purchases from the weekend stuffed into my bags. Through a real-life simulation of tetris that lasted over an hour, I was finally able to zip it all up and I headed to bed.

Monday morning, we grabbed some Starbucks and headed out to Paris, Kentucky to tour Claiborne Farm before we went to the airport. I had never toured a Thoroughbred farm before, and knew only a few of the horses that were standing and had stood at Claiborne. I knew that Secretariat was buried there and that Orb was standing, but that was about it. As we walked the gorgeous aisles of the barns, I was surprised to see that two of my own Sailor’s relatives (Nashua and Mr. Prospector) had stood in those stalls.

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Claiborne yellow

I got to pet Orb and War Front, and Blame was a total character. It was amazing to see and hear about what all goes into the care of these incredible athletes in their daily lives. Every horse at Claiborne gets a bath every single day, regardless of the weather. They also don’t wear blankets in the winter. The grooms and handlers start their days at 5:30am, and each one is essentially assigned their own stallion to care for. It was an amazing learning experience at a gorgeous farm with so much history.

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Blame, sucking on peppermints he sticks to the roof of his mouth.

After Claiborne, it was time to say goodbye to Kentucky, and just in time for the skies to open back up. We headed back to Charlotte and then back to Columbia, and of course I went straight to the barn. It was tough going back to my everyday after a weekend of excitement and exclusivity, but I really missed my horses and my boyfriend, so it was okay.

I can never begin to thank Practical Horseman and the other contest sponsors for such an incredible experience. I had no idea what to expect, but it exceeded anything I could have come up with, I’m sure of it. Thank you, thank you, thank you!